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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

GLOF -- Glacial Lake Outburst Flood

Here is Jimmy "flaking" out a rope to get ready for glacier travel.

Jake here is excited for the day!!  About to rope up.
When I was finishing up in Patagonia last semester, I crossed paths with a fellow named Jim Furgeson at the NOLS branch near Coyhaique.  I had heard he was going to be the Course Leader of our mountaineering expedition in February.  He and I had met and talked on other occasions down here at the Patagonia NOLS branch, but we'd never worked together.  So, on this occasion when I saw him and told him we would be working together he went on to tell me about the route he had in mind for our expedition with the PY3 Chulengos.  Already (in early December) he was working on the logistics and trying to get all the details in order to make this route work.  When I told him it was my first mountaineering course in Patagonia he quickly replied, "Wow, jumping in on the deep end!"  At the time I wasn't totally sure how to respond since I figured it'll just be another NOLS course, and I've done many... but now, in hind sight, I would say that his statement was correct.  The route he'd carefully and meticulously chosen was the "deep end" as far as mountaineering at NOLS is concerned.  It was a great expedition, and challenged all of us, instructors and students alike.
This is 'Ventisquero Pared Norte"  -- a big valley glacier.
So, when I arrived back down in Patagonia after my Christmas break, the students had already been here for three weeks doing their rock climbing section.  The three other instructors and I had two or three days to get prepped for the expedition before the students came back to the NOLS campo to transition.  When the students arrived we had just a shade over 24 hours to get them ready for a 35 day mountaineering expedition... it was a little crazy!  But the students hit the ground running and we began packing our rations of food and going through their clothing and personal equipment to make sure they had all the necessary items to live comfortably (as possible) in the remote backcountry near the Northern Icefield.  Bright and early the next morning we loaded the bus and were driven to a small campground near the Baker River.   When we arrived at the campground we set up tents, cooked some dinner and went to sleep.

Part of our logistics was to cross the Baker River the next morning, and Jim had made arrangements for a local "Poblador" rancher to use his boat to ferry us across the river.  BUT we needed to do it quickly in the morning because a GLOF had released and the river level was rapidly rising in the morning.  What is a GLOF you ask?  GLOF stands for Glacial Lake Outburst Flood... you can click on this link to read a little about them.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacial_lake_outburst_flood

So when we woke up that next morning we were in a hurry to get down to the river where Enrique Sanchez was waiting for us to give us a ride across the river... four persons at a time.  Fortunately, while we could see the river had risen some and the current was faster than normal it was still safe to cross, but we needed to do it quickly.  We didn't want to have half the course cross and half not make it... so we were hustling.  Within an hour we were all safely on the north side of Rio Baker and we moved away from the river and camped near Enrique Sanchez's house.  His house was well above the  potential high water mark, so we set up camp there.  After dinner that day we walked back down toward the river and the water had fully flooded over the banks of the river and was more than 3 meters above normal water level.

The next morning we cooked breakfast, packed our backpacks and started hiking to our next camp up an unnamed valley to an unnamed lake.  It wasn't very far... only six kilometers, but we had to gain over 700 meters, traveling for the most part off trail.  So it was a big day of hiking.  Since there were 18 of us in our expedition, we divided each day into small groups of 4 or 5 people to make hiking more efficient.  And, as could be expected we all arrived at the lake at different times--anywhere from seven hours to ten hours after starting.  Whew!  But we all made it!
Here are four of the Chulengos on a spectacular hiking day.

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